Jake Meeth first arrived at Cambridge to pursue an MPhil in 2014 and worked for a local start-up before his fascination with industrial research drew him back to Churchill to begin his PhD in electrical engineering.

Originally from the US, Jake grew up in Wichita Kansas and always enjoyed tinkering with electronics. He attended Kansas University where he developed a growing passion for nanotechnology and co-founded a science society before being encouraged to consider studying abroad. So it was that Jake first left the windy plains of Kansas and arrived at Churchill to study metal-oxide solar cells with Professor Andrew Flewitt, and subsequently joined a start-up company in Cambridge (PragmatIC) working on testing naontechnology devices. Although this provided Jake with great industrial experience, he realised he needed to return to academia to better understand the tools for bridging industry and research and develop his career in this field. This aim finally became possible thanks to funding received from the Gulbenkian-Yuval Studentship – with some additional support from his previous employer – and Jake was delighted to find himself back at Churchill to begin his PhD studies in 2018.

Despite the multitude of connections one can have at Cambridge, I have found my College affiliation to be the most important. Churchill College has not only graciously provided me with the academic and pastoral support to succeed, but also the gift of a collegiate family. Most crucially of all, I would never have been able to take up my PhD without the financial support of a College funded Gulbenkian-Yuval Studentship. The Studentship is given to a PhD student of any nationality at Churchill, in any subject, roughly every three years. It has, without a doubt, changed my life and started my career down a new exciting path.

Returning to Churchill after three years in industry proved to be a natural and easy transition for Jake thanks to the help and kindness of everyone at College, ‘It felt like coming to an old home’. Churchill offered a cosy and relaxed atmosphere whilst at the same time providing the perfect environment to explore new ideas and research, ‘the College MCR is always inviting and waiting for an interesting conversation’. In fact, Jake cites the people at Churchill as being the best thing about the College. He has made many life-long friends, including meeting his partner of nearly 5 years when he first arrived at the College to do his Masters and she was in the first year of her PhD.

The highlights of my time at Churchill all revolve around the people. To me, Churchill College is the place I live. It is the place to go after a long day in the lab and decompress with a game of foosball. It is the place to go when I hit a roadblock and need a friend to talk to. It is also the place to go when everything is going well, and you want to share some experiences. It is impossible to pick a favourite highlight, but now I am thinking of the relationship I built with my partner. She has taught me a lot of things and helped me through some hard times. We spent many hours getting lost in the city of Cambridge.

Life under lockdown

The sudden lockdown caused by the pandemic led to a challenging few months for Jake personally and academically, but it also provided a valuable opportunity to reflect and work on new opportunities. During the closure of his lab, Jake’s experimental PhD shifted to theoretical work and his brief experience with modelling gave him a newfound respect for theoreticians. As he is now heading into the final year of his PhD it feels strange to be working away from his labmates and College but Jake knows there is still support from afar. He is currently working on deep literature reviews to strengthen the backbone of his work, and his next steps will demonstrate his recent work in the lab and begin to piece together the story of his research.

Looking ahead to after his PhD, Jake sees opportunities to apply his skills in nanofabrication industries in the UK and the US, and eventually hopes to lead research into new applications and pioneer exciting industrial projects. Ultimately, he is very aware that it is thanks to the funding he has received that this career path has been made into a possibility and he is hugely thankful for the opportunity.

Churchill College has shaped my life in more ways than I can probably see now, it has allowed me to explore new ideas and build a career which will allow me to give back to society, and I am immensely grateful for the donations which have made that possible. As I am learning in my research: it can be tragic when things go wrong, but it is most important to learn from the experience and adapt for the future. This is not how I saw this year going, but I am optimistic that the surprising work I am doing now will be just as fruitful. As ever, and especially in these confusing times, I am grateful for the support from my studentship, which has allowed me to continue to follow my passion and plan for the future.